2009 Recalibration: Part 5

Rethinking the way you communicate with customers

Customers today have less money to spend, more choices, and more uncertainty that paralyzes their decision making.

How do you connect with your customers at a time like this, when they are spending less, scrutinizing more, and rationing the number of times they say "yes"?

The current economic havoc makes it more crucial than ever that you recalibrate your marketing process away from the marketer-centric, advertising-based, get-the-word-out, capture-eyeballs, chest-beating, "look at me" old world of marketing, and design your customer interactions around the way people actually evaluate you: by considering the way all interactions with your company blend to tell one, cumulative, clear, compelling story. I call this Brand Harmony.

You cannot fake out today's customer with a clever promotion. You cannot wow them solely through advertising, except maybe in extreme Aflac Duck/Geico Gekko situations. Customers' antennae are up, searching and sensitive, and they will see around empty promises the way we saw that the old west town at the end of Blazing Saddles was just a movie set facade.

Examples of brand dissonance are in front of us every day. You see a Verizon TV commercial touting the network, and have a dropped call 10 minutes later. You receive mail from an airline telling you they "value your business," and then they charge you a $150 penalty to change your flight. After speaking to a salesperson at his tradeshow booth, you read his brochure and realize that the written message has very little in common with what he said.

You cannot move customers' minds, feet, and wallets unless your create Brand Harmony through the entire course of your interactions with them. You have to be more careful about your marketing investments, especially in the midst of this economic mayhem, as your customers are more careful with their purchase decisions.

Here's an easy way to improve the sense of Brand Harmony you create for your customers: Block off a conference room at your office for the next week. Cover the walls in paper. Next, grab your colleagues and a bunch of markers, and map out the touchpoints customers have with your company throughout the course of their relationships with you. Look for pockets of dissonance. Look for places where the story doesn't flow, or where it contradicts itself. Look for places to improve the way you communicate your story, with a focus on improved Brand Harmony. I'm confident you will have the same experience I have when I do this revealing exercise with my clients: You will quickly spot ways to reduce dissonance and increase harmony.

For example:

• Does the message your salespeople communicate during a sales call match the message in the brochure they leave behind at the end of the meeting?
• Does the purchase experience on the web complement the purchase experience on the phone or in a retail store?
• Do your collections people call customers and ask for money with the same brand values that your customer service people use when they talk to customers?

You'll also find opportunities to communicate better ... and, most likely, spend less, as you notice expensive efforts that really don't tell your story.

For example:

• Do you really have to advertise in that trade journal every quarter, "just to keep the editors happy"?
• Is the annual Christmas card mailing, where seven of you perfunctorily, hastily, and sloppily sign all the cards, the most effective way to touch your customers at the end of the year?
• Would there be great value in a personal call to customers the day after a product or service delivery to see how they feel about it?

Then, start making improvements—today. Brand Harmony is more like a dimmer switch than an on/off switch, and you can start readjusting the way your company interacts with customers, touchpoint by touchpoint, starting now.

Remember, "integrated marketing" is not something marketing people do. It's what your customers do. If you want your customers' attention—and love—create an entire set of experiences that they can "integrate" in their minds into one clear, compelling story.

Go ahead, recalibrate the way you interact with customers. Now, more than ever, in this time of economic discontinuity, uncertainty, and scrutiny.

[This is part five of a six-part series. You can find links to parts one through four at Steve's website, Yastrow.com, or read more by Steve.]